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How to Tell if You are a Perfectionist Teenager 

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Whether you are a parent of a teenager or the teenager yourself, it is essential to recognize the signs of perfectionism to practice ways to manage it. Although perfectionism is a commonly used term that many identify with, it can be a mental health issue that is extremely hard for some to deal with. Keep reading to learn more about perfectionism in general, how to identify the signs of perfectionism in teenagers, and coping skills that can help decrease perfectionistic habits. 

 

What is Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be described as the need to be, or appear to be, free of flaws and failures. We all know that absolute perfection is impossible to reach, but for perfectionists, getting as close to perfection as humanly possible is almost always the goal. Perfectionism can manifest itself in multiple areas of a person’s life, and perfectionism looks different for everyone. 

For example, someone can be a perfectionist regarding their work performance and have to make sure every task completed for their job goes above and beyond the requirements. Another person can also be a perfectionist about their looks and feel as though they have to spend hours on their makeup and hair before seeing people. Although these people are perfectionistic in different ways, it all boils down to holding themselves to an unrealistically high standard. 

There are multiple possible causes of perfectionism coming from internal and social pressures. Internal factors like low self-esteem or a fear of failure are often key reasons why a person develops perfectionistic behaviors. However, social pressures and environments also play a big role in the development of perfectionism. Many perfectionists grow up with parents who had unrealistically high standards of them and their performance [1]. If parents are highly critical and only give praise when their child meets their standards, their child is far more likely to develop perfectionism to please their parents. Other social factors, like the increase in competitiveness among peers in school or sports, also feed into the rise of perfectionism [2].

 

Signs of Perfectionism in Teenagers: 

Catching perfectionism early on, like in childhood or teenage years, can make it much easier for one to change their behaviors and thought processes into healthier ones. Here are 5 signs that a teenager is likely a perfectionist and may need some support: 

  • The teenager has trouble completing school assignments because their work is never “good enough.” If they are struggling to complete or even start their assignments, it is likely because they are insecure that whatever they do will never be good enough. This can lead to a mentality that makes them ask themselves, “Why even bother?” and further lead to procrastination. 
  • The teenager is highly sensitive to criticism. Whether it is criticism from a teacher, coach, or parents, if the teenager gets frustrated or overly upset about critique, it is likely because they already do this so much to themselves. Being seen as a failure is one of their fears, and they view critique as an explanation for the ways they failed. 
  • The teenager is overly critical of others. They may be so used to being highly critical of themselves, this behavior may transfer to others. They also may be used to this behavior if their parents are overly critical of them, which conditioned them to think this is the “norm” of expectations for others. Because of this, they will likely hold their friends to the same standards to which they hold themselves. 
  • The teenager has anxiety about failure that is disproportionate to the reality of the situation. If the teenager has so much anxiety about failure that it disrupts their ability to function daily, they likely experience perfectionism. For example, they may get overly upset about a very small mistake, like being a few minutes late to an event or forgetting to bring something to class. For most, the anxiety following these situations subsides soon after the mistake is made. For perfectionists, it may last the whole day, or even longer.
  • The teenager speaks negatively about themselves and their achievements. Low self-esteem and negative self-talk regarding something they don’t see as “good enough” is a sure sign of perfectionism. For example, they may be very hard on themselves for scoring a 95% on a test. Even though this is still an outstanding score, they are critical of themselves because it isn’t 100% perfect. Instead of focusing on being proud of themselves for scoring so high, they may ask, “Why couldn’t I get those last 5 points?” 

How to Decrease Perfectionistic Behaviors: 

Although there is no “cure” for perfectionism, there are a few practices that may help decrease perfectionistic behaviors and teach self-acceptance: 

  • Make the connection between “failure” and growth. Mistakes are necessary for one to grow and learn from them. When thinking about it this way, striving to be “perfect” at every task is hindering one’s growth. Try to enjoy the journey instead of focusing on just the desired destination. Along the way, you’ll fail, succeed, and learn—but that is all part of the process! 
  • Take active steps to think in self-accepting ways. Whether it helps to talk to a therapist, journal, practice self-care, or read self-help books, taking active steps toward improving your thought processes is a huge part of recovering from perfectionism. 
  • Become self-aware. By becoming conscious of your tendency to speak negatively toward yourself, be highly critical, and aim for nothing less than perfection, you can rewire these thoughts into more positive ones. Whenever you recognize a negative thought, reframe it and speak to yourself the way you would speak to a child. You wouldn’t be rigid, critical, or shameful to a child, right? You would encourage them to try their best, even if their best doesn’t equate to perfection. Give yourself the same amount of respect and care. 


Perfectionism can be tough to tackle, but hopefully, this blog helps you recognize the signs of perfectionism and ways to decrease it. If you are looking for a therapist that focuses primarily on perfectionism, click here!

To learn more about how we can work together, contact me. Or you can schedule your free 15-minute consultation call here.

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